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NC State has fewest transfers in College World Series, embraces development

image_6483441 (3)by:Noah Fleischman06/14/24

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OMAHA, Neb. — The transfer portal has created a precarious dynamic with college athletics. While it’s rampant in both football and basketball, baseball has also seen the portal used to help strengthen a team’s roster in a given year. 

And at the Men’s College World Series this week, that’s no different.

There are 68 Division I transfers competing in Omaha this year, all in their first season with their respective teams. In data compiled by Friday Starters, Kentucky and Texas A&M have the most on their roster with 12 each, while NC State has the fewest D-I transfers at just four. 

While the Wolfpack has the least amount of transplants on its roster among the final eight teams left, NC State leads the College World Series in recruits on the roster at 32 — Virginia is the only other team that had more than 29 (30). 

It’s not a coincidence, either. 

NC State coach Elliott Avent, who is in his 28th year leading the Wolfpack, has an old-school approach: recruit, develop and retain. That recipe has worked throughout his tenure in Raleigh, leading to three College World Series appearances along the way. 

“I’ve always believed in recruiting high school players and developing them,” Avent said in Thursday’s pre-College World Series press conference. “That’s always been the heart and soul of our program at NC State because we’re all about development, and you can’t develop people in the year like — you take Alec Makarewicz and Garrett Pennington and Brandon Butterworth, are we really a part of their success? Their success was born long before they got to NC State.”

Yes, while the Wolfpack’s two leading hitters, graduate first baseman Garrett Pennington and graduate third baseman Alec Makarewicz, are in their first — and only — season at NC State, but Avent’s approach to the transfer portal is to plug positions of need with it. 

“What the transfer portal is for us right now is what the junior college market used to be for us,” Avent said. “You have your players, you develop. You lose somebody to the draft that you didn’t expect or something happens with an injury, and you try to plug holes with junior college players. Now we’re doing that through the transfer portal.”

That worked with retooling the Pack’s infield with Pennington (leads the team in doubles, 26), Makarewicz (leads the team in batting average at .380, home runs with 22, RBI with 80 and slugging percentage at .744) and junior shortstop Brandon Butterworth, a silky smooth defender, all coming from the transfer portal. 

Although the portal allowed NC State to add three instant impact players to the infield, all with key roles in the run to the College World Series, so have the Wolfpack’s homegrown talent — especially the freshmen.

NC State has received large contributions from a group of five talented freshmen that have been in consistent roles as the Wolfpack grew stronger down the stretch. Designated hitter Alex Sosa emerged as a consistent bat, while infielder/outfielder Luke Nixon has dazzled with his defense. 

Oh, and there’s the three relievers — left-handers Cooper Consiglio and Ryan Marohn, and righty Jacob Dudan, who struck out Georgia’s Charlie Condon with the bases loaded in Monday night’s Game 3 — that have been lockdown arms for the Wolfpack. 

For Sosa, who has a hit in all but one postseason game with two home runs and eight RBI, the Pack’s development and proven ability to churn out Major League catchers — Patrick Bailey, Andrew Knizner and likely junior Jacob Cozart, the No. 42 prospect in MLB.com’s draft rankings — was a key factor in his decision to forgo the MLB Draft out of high school. 

“For me, it was one of the reasons why I chose NC State, the development that they do,” Sosa said. “Specifically me being a catcher, I felt super comfortable making this decision to come here over other options. Being able to go out there with all the young guys, seeing them be able to get it done, it’s really cool.”

While the freshmen have played an integral role in the postseason run — as well as stalwarts like graduate right fielder Noah Soles, graduate pitchers Sam Highfill and Logan Whitaker, sophomore center fielder Eli Serrano III, sophomore closer Derrick Smith and Cozart, among others — the Pack’s few transfers have been hit out of the park. 

Butterworth, who arrived from Western Carolina, has provided elite speed, while Pennington and Makarewicz have the power in their bats. But Butterworth was impressed by the Wolfpack’s coaching staff’s ability to blend the minimal amount of transfers with the team’s underclassmen and returning vets to make a cohesive group. 

“It shows a lot,” Butterworth said. “This coaching staff is the best, I think. Showing that we have the fewest transfers says that we build up these freshmen, these sophomores who have really shown themselves on the field this year.”

NC State’s staff worked with what it had, and Avent, who hasn’t relied on the transfer portal, doesn’t imagine that the program will change anytime soon. 

“I don’t believe in building a whole team through the transfer portal every year,” Avent said. “That’s not what we’re all about, and that’s not what I believe in.”

Avent’s philosophy has been effective for much of his coaching career, and it proved to be true again in 2024 as the Wolfpack is back in Omaha. 

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